We try to be fully present in everything we do. We focus on just walking when we walk, and when listening to others we try to fully listen, not thinking ahead to the answer. The vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn writes beautifully on giving whatever we are doing our full attention, taking care of one moment after another. Each event is important even if it is just washing a cup. In that way we are fully open to the happiness that is possible right now, in each moment, if we just have eyes to see.
We learn this looking at nature around us and seeing how in silence each tree is perfectly complete in this moment. Nothing needs to be added. We are reminded of the old philopsophy maxim – actio sequitur esse- or action is based on being. Everything we do, all our happiness, is rooted in the heart. We touch into the heart every time we remember to be fully in each moment, not leaning onto the next, not always trying to be elsewhere or someone other than ourselves. Sitting practice strengthens this too: we do not try to feel anything particular, we drop all of our planning and additions and being in relationship to just this moment, to just being.
An oak tree is an oak tree. That is all it has to do.
If an oak tree is less than an oak tree, then we are all in trouble.
Thich Nhat Hahn
A small quote from my favourite book of the last few months, which I read on my summer holidays, and return again and again. It is a commentary on the Buddha’s first sermon, containing the foundation of Buddhist thought and practice. I recognize the truth in the words stating how a lot of our efforts are leaning forward, looking to some future pleasant feeling, reducing our awareness of what is actually happening.
Our attitude is frequently one of wanting to get it done, wanting to have it finished in order to be peaceful, to relax, or to enjoy ourselves…. We want to be a feeling.
Rushing along to be something in the next moment, we fail to open and appreciate this moment
Ajahn Sucitto, Turning the wheel of Truth
To acknowledge that suffering has an origin is already a form of abandonment of sorts. It means rather than thinking “I am the victim of a frustrating world that refuses to conform to my wishes” , we acknowledge that suffering is an inevitable part of life and it is something we take within ourselves by the way we react to circumstances…..We tend to personalize everything. Why everything gets at us and makes us so angry is because of something our mind is doing – but to acknowledge that entails giving up some position of “me” and “my emotions” that are right and justified. Now, I’m not saying that abandonment means not feeling anything – that attitude really drives people into dangerously repressed places. The way is about seeing how things get under our skin ad chafe our heart. It’s about abandoning the action of taking in dukkha. We widen our perspective into being aware of how we are feeling and with that clear and steady awareness, we can watch the mental process very carefully.
Ajahn Sucitto, Turning the Wheel of Truth
Although yesterday’s incredibly mild weather belies the fact, we have passed the traditional date for the start of winter. It began on the feast of Saint Martin, marking the end of harvest, the drinking of the new wine, and the time for farm labourers to return home. Then the ancient period of forty days preparation for Christmas, observed since the 5th Century, followed. Traditionally, these days coincided with a sense of the natural beginning of winter, and the body’s response in taking recovery time for itself. They were a time of reflection and a simplification of intake, of taking stock and winding down. In today’s world, technology allows us to promote the opposite – longer shopping hours and a speeding up in preparation for the holidays, as Thanksgiving and Christmas advertisments begin to appear. An ancient way of doing things and a modern one. Thus we have a choice.
Nature has its periods of growth and its periods of rest. We are still somewhat in the bright and gentle light of autumn but we know that the darker days of winter are sneaking up on us. Soon all will go quiet and cold, with little seeming to stir. However, as yesterday’s post reminds us about the psychological sphere, underneath much is going on. Nature becomes for us a model in its beckoning us to turn inward and look deeper, to rest, reflect and simplify. Thomas Merton reminded us of the value of “winter, when the plant says nothing.” There is a time for us also to slow down, to say little, to wait and watch.
Our task is to find a balance, to find a middle way, to learn not to overextend ourselves with extra activities and preoccupations, but to simplify our lives more and more. The key to finding a happy balance in modern life is simplicity.
A similar post with a halloween theme, on how to work with the fears which our mind creates. It suggests that the best way to work with our fears involves turning towards and holding them in non-judgmental awareness, rather than fighting or running away:
Normally we empower our demons by believing that they are real and strong in themselves and have the power to destroy us…. [But]…demons are ultimately part of the mind and, as such, have no independent existence.
Nonetheless we engage with them as though they were real, and we believe in their existence – ask anyone who has fought post-traumatic stress, or addiction, or anxiety. The mind perceives demons as real, so we get up caught up in battling with them. Usually this habit of fighting against our perceived problems gives demons strength, rather than weakening them. In the end all demons are rooted in our tendency to create polarization. By understanding how to work with this tendency – to try and dominate the perceived enemy and to see things as either/or – we free ourselves from demons by eliminating them at their very source.
Tsultrim Allione, Feeding your Demons: Ancient Wisdon for Resolving Inner Conflict